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12 Dec 2017

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What does orbit the million stars closest to Earth mean?

The body is now about twice as far from Earth as the sun, but from that distance the Green Bank telescope can still detect transmissions as weak as those produced by a mobile phone. Loeb said that while he did not expect Green Bank to detect an alien transmission, it was worth checking.

“The chances that we’ll hear something are very small, but if we do, we will report it immediately and then try to interpret it,” Loeb said. “It would be prudent just to check and look for signals. Even if we find an artefact that was left over and there are no signs of life on it, that would be the greatest thrill I can imagine having in my lifetime. It’s really one of the fundamental questions in science, perhaps the most fundamental: are we alone?”

The Breakthrough Listen project was launched at the Royal Society in London in 2015, when the Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking announced the effort to listen for signs of life on planets that orbit the million stars closest to Earth. The $100m project is funded by the internet billionaire Yuri Milner, and has secured time on telescopes in the US and Australia to search for alien civilisations.
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